Turning gentlemen into hoodlums

By Chang Hung-lin 張宏林  / 

Fri, Jun 02, 2017 - Page 8

Any democracy’s legislature will face controversial bills and issues. To safeguard their own ideas and values, parties will have different strategies to address issues on the legislative agenda. This is understandable and should be respected.

However, over the past month, the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) legislative caucus has on several occasions opposed all bills indiscriminately — including those proposed by its own members — and engaged in personal attacks, something that the public is not happy to see.

While in opposition, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had also tried to safeguard its values by engaging in violent actions that crossed the line for acceptable legislative behavior, winning some battles and losing others.

However, it continues to complain that other parties are behaving the same way.

Although there were historical factors forcing their behavior, there will be a price to pay, and that price is to spend even more effort to heal social divisions.

Public expectations of this legislative session were that legislators would not return to their old ways of chaotic fighting in the hope that the nation’s highest representatives of public opinion would be able to rationally discuss each bill and every issue, with each party able to fully explain their standpoints and convince their opponents through reasoned arguments, therefore gaining legitimacy by winning the public’s support.

One of the advantages of democracy and one of the reasons it is valuable is that while minority parties might not be able to immediately block votes rammed through by the majority, they could accumulate political capital in the eyes of the public and convert it into greater support at the next election.

However, the KMT’s legislative strategy has developed into a resistance that is bringing the legislature to a standstill, which is worrying.

There are four problems with this strategy:

First, without awareness and thought, there is no reason to block proceedings.

In the past, there was always a clear demand behind the opposition’s strategy, and although it crossed the line for acceptable behavior, it was always clear on what it wanted and left it to the public to judge for themselves.

When it comes to the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, many people are still wondering what the KMT is opposing: Is it the construction of infrastructure? The unfair distribution of funds? Does it want the bill to be recalled and revised? Does it want the program to be restricted to a four-year budget? Or does it just want the DPP to collapse?

Second, the KMT is attacking anything that moves, including bills proposed by its fellow party members.

The KMT legislative caucus’ strategy is to file a dissenting opinion against bills that its own members have proposed, then file a dissenting opinion against its own dissenting opinion.

It then demands that a roll call vote be held, and that a roll call vote be held to vote for the demand that a roll call vote be held. Then, after voting for the bill in question, demands that the vote be repeated.

Even important bills proposed by conscientious and expert legislators in their own caucus are rejected.

This is a textbook example of opposition for the sake of opposition, indiscriminately blocking any and all legislation.

Third, this is an epidemic that is paralyzing the legislature. Between April 28 and May 23, eight session days were blocked, and since the beginning of the session, a mere 20 bills have passed their third reading.

Compare this with 52 bills during this legislature’s first session and 93 bills during its second session. It could be expected that the third session would mark a new low for number of bills passing their third reading.

There are 1,186 bills awaiting legislative review. Among these are drafts for the People with Disabilities Rights Protection Act (身心障礙者權益保障法), the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation (食品安全衛生管理法) and the Protection of Children and Youth’s Welfare and Rights Act (兒童及少年福利與權益保障法).

The most outrageous obstruction among the bills awaiting review is the demand that the legislature adopt a resolution regarding the WHO. The World Health Assembly is over, but nothing has happened. This is nothing more than naked cooperation with China, harming the nation’s interests to further the KMT’s own narrow interests.

Finally, it is motivated by bloodsucking greed that wastes taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

During the eight days the legislature was treading water, taxpayers still had to foot the NT$5.78 million (US$191,918) bill for the 113 legislators’ salaries. The annual expenditure for the legislature is NT$3.5 billion, which translates to NT$14 million per day, excluding holidays, meaning that eight days of downtime has cost taxpayers about NT$100 million.

However, the DPP’s strategy should also be considered. In the struggle over many of the issues on the legislative agenda, the party has turned its back on procedural justice and has even acted provocatively, thus giving the opposition an excuse for its resistance.

The DPP has also been unable to make good use of its control of both the legislature and the government — and the resources that come with that control — to clearly communicate the necessity of its policies and use that to gain support from the majority of the public, something it has enjoyed in the past.

A member of the British parliament once said with pride that the legislative experience and standards accumulated by parliament over hundreds of years could turn hoodlums into gentlemen.

The legislature is turning gentlemen into hoodlums. The two biggest parties must get their act together and bring the legislature toward normalization and civilized behavior. If they do not, voters will hand power to other parties.

Chang Hung-lin is executive director of Citizen Congress Watch.

Translated by Perry Svensson